Former senator Chuck Hagel defended his vote against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group, claiming it would have been unprecedented and potentially harmful to give that designation to a representative of a “legitimate” government.
The Islamist regime in Iran, Hagel said, was “an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not.”
The Iranian government is currently gearing up for elections by arresting “anti-revolutionary” journalists, and deciding whether or not to allow pro-reform candidates to participate, many of whom have been living under house arrest for years.
The country’s election in 2009 prompted large-scale protests followed by a violent government crackdown. The country’s political system is generally acknowledged to be heavily rigged in favor of current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; in the words of international democracy monitor Freedom House, “Iran is not an electoral democracy.”
At the time, President Obama said that he had “deep concerns” about the election. Vice president Joe Biden said “there’s some real doubt” about its legitimacy, but the Obama administration otherwise declined to take a more aggressive stance in support of the Iranian protesters.
UPDATE: Asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) to clarify his remarks, Hagel said he did not mean to say Iran was a “legitimate” government per se, but rather a “recognized” entity — a member of the United Nations, for example. “That’s what I should have said,” Hagel told Gillibrand.